Here are nine questions to consider as you search for an email agency that can raise the bar on your current messaging program and meet the all the needs of your business.

With email services booming, more companies than ever are partnering with email-focused agencies to take their email programs to the next level. A whopping 91 percent of marketers surveyed by The Relevancy Group stated that email marketing is an effective channel, in terms of delivering revenue results for their business. Email marketing value-added services are widely deployed, with 50 to 60 percent of respondents adopting these services. As part of this research and the growing market for such services, the independent analyst firm evaluated the email services industry and specific agencies

There is a big wave right now and brand marketers are riding it. Agencies embracing email are riding it, too. It's largely centered on how email fits in the marketing cloud and subscribers' online consumption habits.

Gone are the days when you could have an email service provider: one low- to mid-level digital generalist and your email program. The new normal is specialization and strength in each channel, whether it's done in-house or outsourced. Email agencies are leading the path to significant returns for their clients on the email front, and specialization plays a big role in this.

From the same survey by The Relevancy Group, the chart below represents the collective response to the question, "What type of marketing services would be of the most use/value to your organization?"

As you shop for a an email partner that is able to deliver home runs in Q4 and long-term value beyond, here are nine questions to ask your potential email agency partner: 

1. Does the Agency Specialize in Email or Is Email One of Many Offerings?

(Read more...) is among the most nuanced of digital marketing weapons. Considering the many facets of it - creative, deliverability, content, and so on - it is often very challenging for generalist agencies to have a deep understanding of what works in email while also maintaining consistency in other disciplines.

2. What Are the Service Offerings Within the Agency or Email Practice of the Agency?

As I mentioned before, the components of email are deep and wide. Creative, strategic planning, and best practice know-how are all important skills that define a quality agency. You also can't forget more back-end areas like deliverability, database management, ESP configurations, and HTML coding.

When evaluating email marketing agencies, the depth and breadth of vendors can often reveal true capabilities. Of course, what you are seeking will impact your view. If you are looking for an agency to only address strategic issues, it will need to show its chops in this area. The agency could be a suitable fit if that is all that is needed, 

3. What Is the Team Makeup of the Email Practice or Email-Focused Agency?

Much has been written about how to select any business partner, and choosing an email agency is no different. Trusting the agency's team and actually liking the staffers is key. No one wants to do business with anyone that is disagreeable and hard to work with.

Understanding how the agency operates and how the team works together is important. Every brand fears the agency bait-and-switch. Therefore, as the client, you have the right to inquire about the potential team's experience and focus. Are there multiples offices? Do employees work remotely? Which employees would be involved with your brand, and where do they work?

Size is another significant factor to take into consideration. Awareness of how many email experts are working on your email program can make all the difference. Every brand wants to ensure it's getting the proper attention and feel like the "most important" client. When hiring your email agency, know that all its other clients will want to secure more than one subject-matter expert, if not the majority of the staffers that work on your program. 

4. What Is the Agency's Experience Within the Channel?

In the services world, people are the product. As a fairly mature channel within the digital world, email has a treasure trove of veterans with a lot of insight. Finding a partner with an experienced team is of paramount importance. By this, I mean teams consisting of people who have pressed the Send button on campaigns at 4 a.m., have driven consumers to buy from an email, and have spent much time in the digital trenches.

Don't be afraid to ask the hard questions. How long has the agency been in business? What did the founder(s) do before starting the agency? How long have they been focused on email? How many email campaigns has the team managed? How many strategic engagements has it completed? Answers to these questions will give you a better sense of whether an agency really is what you want, or just telling you what you want to hear.

5. How Well-Versed Are You in Cross-Channel Integration?

Finding out how many people specialize in email at each agency is another critical factor to consider. At the same time, you should dig into how each prospective email agency partner is proficient in all the ways that email touches every part of a brand's business. Email isn't in a silo, so an agency should never view it that way.

How much experience do they have with clients' brand agencies? Are they knowledgable about integration of mobile, search, and social efforts? Do they understand how email may impact your business' call center? How about experience and understanding of how legal reviews email campaigns? Your ideal email specialists must have a through comprehension of how email fits into and impacts other parts of the business.

6. How Experienced Is the Agency on Multiple Email Platforms - or Just Yours?

Any kind of email-related work will have some kind of connection to the ESP, even if it is not managing campaigns. Ensuring your agency partner has much relevant experience with multiple ESPs should be on any marketer's wish list. Minimally, they need to have experience with your platform and even better yet, an official partnership with the platform's company. Why? Because this will give you better access to the ESP for any technical issues and support, not to mention the potential for better pricing.

7. Do They Have Other Clients Like Me?

Most agencies that have any history or stature in the industry should have some shiny logos to impress you. Client lists should do two things:

  1. Verify the agency has the track record of doing work for similar brands to yours. 
  2. Give you a window into what work the agency really is doing.

Rather than just admiring logos, marketers should ask more questions. After all, some clients may not have hired the agency to do work in years, or have only engaged the agency for a one-off project. This isn't necessarily negative, but the best window to view an agency's specific experience is to get referrals. Find out more details on the work the agency performs, not to mention the successes.

8. What Is Its Reputation?

Reputation depends on who you ask, but should be in your decision criteria. What an agency does in terms of thought, leadership, and content creation is a good place to start. A report like the one from The Relevancy Group helps pull back the curtain within a niche like email agencies, so use this info to help get a sense on who may be on your initial list.

9. Do You Have a Strong Sense That It Will Be a Good Partner?

The gut-check is highly subjective, but incredibly crucial. Does this agency feel like the right partner? Does it seem excited about working with your brand? Are the people passionate about their craft? Would you want to have a beer with them after a day of brainstorming?

Any long-term successful relationship comes down to many intangibles and with the stressful, never-ending nature of email marketing programs, it is recommended that you are confident and excited about the agency you work with and that the feeling is mutual.

Does the agency seem likely to answer your calls after 5 p.m.? Will it be excited for an unplanned discussion of transactional emails, or scared of a phone call to discuss CAN-SPAM compliance?

Selecting the right digital partner is among the most imperative decisions a marketer can make, and discovering one in a specialized, mandatory area like email can raise the stakes even higher. Be sure your partner is one that can maximize your ROI and make your life easier - not more difficult.

Dive in and elevate your email!

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